A few days ago our esteemed Collections Librarian, Ana, handed me this book to take a look at and asked that I advertise this new acquisition as the topic will be very useful and important for our nursing and mental health and human services students. I looked at the cover and thought “Yes, I want to read this, I need to read this”. That is not something I would usually say, as my preference is for “escapist” type fiction these days. But not only do I realize there is a “Gray Tsunami” coming our way (as the author puts it), but because I have seen many family members wither away in nursing homes. My parents are aging, so there will be decisions for them to make 5-10 years down the road. Eventually…it will be us, Generation X and the Millennials. The next wave.
The author, Dr. Allan S. Teel, is a family physician in Damriscotta, Maine and has worked with senior citizens in hospitals, assisted living facilities and in their own homes for 25 years. This book, Alone and Invisible No More, talks about the serious crisis of elder care in our country and how within the next 30-40 years we are going to have approximately 21 million citizens over the age of 85! The fact that someone in our own backyard has researched and written on this subject as well as having implemented this program, makes it all the more interesting to me.
Yesterday I picked it up and started reading. Just within the first page of the introduction, Dr. Teel had my complete attention. He talks about the fact that our country has in effect “segregated, isolated and [has] often marginalized a large group of older citizens who should be treated like celebrities at the later stages of their lives” (Teel). Within the last 5 years he has developed “The Maine Approach” to elder care. The most basic tenet to his approach, to me at least, is when he paraphrases the well-known African proverb – “it will take a village to care for our elders”. The first chapter is about the author’s grandmother – Gram Teel, with whom he was very close and who was herself a champion for the aging population. The story he weaves of his grandmother is sure to touch your heart (as it did mine) if you had or have a grandparent or elder mentor with whom you have been close.
The book covers many important topics among them – the history of Residential Care in the U.S., government regulation of care, the breakthrough and piloting of the “Maine Approach”, as well as talking about how it is working in action.
On a personal level, reading about his grandmother of course brought mind to mine as well as my other grandparents and their experience in assisted living care. My grandmother was fiercely independent and very social. She lived her whole life, except for her last 7 years in the same house. The house in which she was born. The house in which my father and uncle were born. The house where she lost both her parents. The house that brought the whole family together once a year on Christmas Eve. Her health declined greatly once she turned 70, so her husband moved them into a smaller, one level ranch. Her health declined more after the move. I thought at the time and I still feel today, that leaving her home and having to downsize and give away many of her possessions had a very real effect on her physical and mental health. Granted she did not have to move into an assisted living facility but to her I think it felt the same because her life was going to end in a place that had little to no meaning for her. She was a wonderful person and well-loved by all. She was my best friend.
My husband’s grandparents lived in a small community near the mouth of Penobscot Bay. They owned a very large, old New England-style farmhouse which looked out onto the bay. Ships would pass-by and all manner of birds and animals even the obligatory moose. Because they lived too far away from the rest of the family, they decided it was time to move to a smaller home but it was hard to find anything affordable on a retired minister’s pension. They moved to Brunswick for a few years, but even that small house became too much. By the time they passed away a few years later, they were living in a small but very caring assisted living facility in southern Maine. They went from being surrounded by all their friends and worldly possessions (books, crafts, family heirlooms, etc…) to having 2 twin beds, a closet, a bureau and a chair. It was as nice a facility and the staff were very caring and attentive but still…it wasn’t home and the loneliness of the place and surroundings had a huge impact on their end of life quality.
So the thought of an approach to elder care that combines the web technology, community volunteerism, affordable ways for people to be able to stay in their homes for longer in a safer way, gives me hope for a quality of life and a quality of care that elders – our parents, our grandparents, our friends and neighbors and eventually you and me DESERVE.
I highly recommend this book to any and all who have an interest in healthcare, especially elder care and for those who are students or practitioners in a healthcare related field. The author is passionate about making elder care better and uses humor and moving stories to get his point across. This is a must read!